The impact of COVID-19 can be seen unequivocally across the globe. Along with taking a toll on human lives, the virus has triggered a major economic crisis across the globe. The outbreak threatens the stability of almost everything from jobs to information systems.
As per The Economic Times, “Aviation is among the worst-affected sectors amidst the Covid-19 crisis that has taken the scale of a pandemic” (Economic Times, 2020).
Hotels, Airlines, Travel Companies etc are managing last-minute cancellations and addressing travel safety concerns. There has also been an upsurge in online delivery of food and grocery items in response to the government’s scheme of nationwide lockdown.
The outbreak has had an unprecedented impact on all the functions of a company. While each department is grappling to find its ways of survival, one of the hardest-hit departments is that of ‘customer service’. The crisis has suddenly brought the entire customer experience operations into the spotlight.
As per a Google Trend Search, “Customer Service” as a topic has the highest trending search volume (worldwide) in 2020 as compared to any other year over the last two decades (Max, 2020)
Customers seek quick resolution. A customer’s interaction with the company during crisis can have a long-lasting impact on their relationship. The primary assessment of customer experience will be how well does a company deliver fulfilling experience and service that matches up to their needs. Customer Experience Leaders can work in the following areas to ensure better management of customer complaints:
#1 Make customers feel important and their complaints valuable
It is a human tendency to feel vulnerable during crisis. During such times, customers demand extra information, clarity, and support to navigate their way through the entire situation. They look for a trustworthy resource that can make them feel safe when everything seems uncertain and overwhelming. Therefore, it is of extreme importance for the reps to provide customers with relief and instil a sense of confidence within them. The complaints should be looked upon as opportunities to strengthen the relationship with the customers.
#2 Make representatives modify their style of dealing with complaints
Customer service reps are accustomed to following a normal style of dealing. They are also very likely to route/re-direct the calls in order to avoid having a difficult conversation with a customer. In a recent study, low-performing reps were 38% more likely to use “redirect” language on Covid-19 related calls than high performers. Redirect usually requires customers to wait and explain the entire issue again to the next rep(Dixon, McKenna, & O, 2020). Research also revealed that over “70% of customers assumed that the companies would collaborate on their behalf to avoid repetition, lag time, or confusion, and 68% said they were annoyed when transferred between departments”. In such a situation, reps should try and keep the entire conversation more customer focused than company focused. Techniques such as “advocacy” can easily convey that the rep is on the customer’s side. Using statements like “Let’s see if we can figure this out together” can swing the entire discussion in a desirable direction for both company and customer. Research also suggests that advocacy language reduces customer effort by as much as 77% (Bastian, 2020)
#3 Maintain operational continuity through AI
People expect immediate resolutions to their issues and even more so in stressful times like these. In 1982, J&J faced major crisis when its pills (Tylenol) led to the deaths of seven people in Chicago since they were laced with cyanide. The company immediately recalled 31 million bottles, sent several warning messages to doctors’ offices and pharmacies, and set up a 24*7 helpline to answer questions. Like Tylenol, companies also need to scale up their customer experience operations to attend to issues (Max, 2020). Operational continuity in any organization is maintained by agents, operations staff, and management (Gartner, 2020). However, this is currently being threatened due to lockdown and social distancing. Leaders should maintain continuity of business operations by devising ways of ensuring viable work-from-home options as well as leveraging AI (Frascaroli, 2020). Several companies have migrated towards models that integrate automation into their customer experience.
#4 Adopt different management style
Such critical conditions create additional pressure and demand not just for the customers but also for the reps. This fuels anxiety and apprehension within them leading to an increased sense of vulnerability. During such times, leaders must step forward and take care of their team members so that they can remain healthy and engaged. They must find novel ways to manage their team members. One very effective way can be using the model of “integrated coaching” which is very different from the structured model of coaching. In this, managers weave coaching into the everyday activities of the reps, making it seem less penalising and more rewarding. Research also shows that this model can improve team performance by 12%. With minimal adjustments, integrated coaching can also be done virtually (Dixon, McKenna, & O, 2020).
#5 Redefine knowledge sharing
Fostering Collaboration between reps can act as a great way of sharing knowledge. Larger customer experience teams have larger pools of knowledge to share with each other. They can specialize in certain products or functions, which very easily increases the quality of support they can offer their customers. Streamlined collaboration can also make the reps feel empowered and connected, which is more important than ever in such critical times (Dixon, McKenna, & O, 2020).
COVID-19 has put the entire customer experience department under immense pressure. In order to survive and thrive, it is of extreme importance to maintain a great relationship with the customers. Customers are going to have more questions and issues during times like this. Therefore, companies that remain open-minded about change and react quickly will be in a much more comfortable position to attend to their customers and employees in this time of need and navigate this situation for as long as it lasts.
InspireOne has been delivering stellar solutions in the area of customer centricity for the past 20 years. For details of our solutions feel free to visit this link. If you want to create a culture of customer centricity in your organizations, please do not hesitate to connect with us.
Bastian, H. (2020, February 26). Internal collaboration: why and how to prioritize teamwork first. Retrieved from Zendesk: https://www.zendesk.com/blog/internal-collaboration-prioritize-teamwork/
Dixon, M., McKenna, T., & O, G. d. (2020, April 08). Supporting Customer Service Through the Coronavirus Crisis. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/04/supporting-customer-service-through-the-coronavirus-crisis
Economic Times. (2020, April 10). How bad is the impact of coronavirus on India’s airlines? Retrieved from Economic Times: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/markets/stocks/news/how-bad-is-the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-indias-airlines/articleshow/75080538.cms?from=mdr
Elliott, C. (2020, March 29). Will Coronavirus Improve Customer Service? Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherelliott/2020/03/29/will-coronavirus-improve-customer-service/#64979d062529
Frascaroli, M. (2020, March 30). How the Customer Service Industry Can Deal with Coronavirus. Retrieved from Smart Customer Service: http://www.smartcustomerservice.com/Columns/Vendor-Views/How-the-Customer-Service-Industry-Can-Deal-with-Coronavirus-140012.aspx
Gartner. (2020, March 24). Gartner Says Customer Service and Support Leaders Should Focus on Three Impact Areas to Mitigate Coronavirus-Related Disruptions. Retrieved from Gartner: https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-03-24-gartner-says-customer-service-and-support-leaders-sho
Max, D. (2020, March 03). Coronavirus and Customer Service: 5 Ways to Optimize Customer Support Operations in Stressful Times. Retrieved from Netomi: https://www.netomi.com/coronavirus-and-customer-service-5-ways-to-optimize-customer-support-operations-in-stressful-times